The Life and Times of the Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner has a much more complicated history than most Americans realize. By the time Francis Scott Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, the tune had been used for many patriotic songs by other song writers. Key himself had already written a song to the same tune, When the Warrior Returns. Other songs to the same tune include Adams and Liberty, An Appeal to Loyalists, and others. A number are included in this site.

At this site you can find:

The original words for the tune were the "constitutional song" of a conviviality society in London, called The Anacreontic Society. This was a men's club that met in a banquet hall once a month. After dinner, entertainment was provided. The members of the club sang their club song, To Anacreon in Heaven. These were the original words to the tune we know today.

The original tune for the song To Anacreon in Heaven may have been another tune called Packington's Pound. Packington's Pound was a hugely popular tune for a long time. More than 100 songs are known to have been written to it. The song Paul Jones was published without an indication of the tune to be used. It could have been sung to either Anacreon or Packington.

The Star-Spangled Banner did not become the official National Anthem of the United States until 1931. Imagine — during the Civil War and World War I, the United States did not have an official song. Until the final selection of The Star-Spangled Banner, three other songs were in the running for the National Anthem. In 1908, Congress commissioned a study to gather information that would be needed to decide what song should be the official song of the United States. In addition to The Star-Spangled Banner, they considered Hail Columbia, America, and Yankee Doodle. Other songs that have come to represent America more recently include God Bless America, This Land is Your Land and America the Beautiful.

A word about the music in this site. You can play the tunes that go with a song in either of two ways. You can play the entire tune by clicking on the link above the words. Alternatively, you can play it line by line by clicking on the musical note at the end of each line. Don't worry if the tune does not seem to match the words exactly. Tunes for popular music were much more fluid during the time period we are talking about and the written music is often an approximation to the intended tune, with plenty of room for variation. For example, the tune used for An Appeal To Loyalists is still a variation of Packington's Pound, even though it sounds very different. At least two different tunes might have been used for two of the songs, To Anacreon in Heaven and Paul Jones. In these cases, I have put the little notes at the ends of lines for two different verses, one for each tune. That makes the equivalence of the tunes completely apparent. Because Packington's Pound was such an overwhelmingly popular tune in its time, I hope you can see it as an opening into the vibrant world of pop music as it was 2 centuries ago.